Northport's jewelry store closed its doors on Tuesday after 43 years as a Northport mainstay and just one year after moving to its new location at 691 Fort Salonga Road.
Owner Jerome Sellick had previously told Patch that his store was facing dwindling profits and rising operating costs at their old location, though he was not available for comment before the closing on Tuesday. Posts on the Gemport's Facebook page had also announced closures in previous months and, though the store kept going, Tuesday appears to have been their last day in earnest as all items are now at liquidation by Two Sister's Second Hand Swap in Melville.
"So sad. I spent many enjoyable hours in your gallery looking, learning, and expanding my gem and crystal collection," Facebook user Harry Block remarked on Gemport's Facebook page. "My favorites I purchased from you are a Mogok ruby crystal on host rock and a Burmese spinel crystal also on host rock."
Gemport was known for its museum quality rare gem, fossil, and mineral collection that attracted serious collectors and novices alike. At one point it even doubled as a museum and was a destination for school and enrichment groups looking to learn more about geology. From fossils to multi-colored free-form treasures, faceted and cabochon gemstones, and beads for stringing, to geodes and engagement rings -- the store had it all.
Gemport was founded in 1969 by Sellick's father-in-law, Clem Reseska, who originally owned a warehouse on the lot at 240 Fort Salonga Road where Gemport was previously located. Clem took up gemology as a hobby at first, making small rings that he could sell to truck drivers whose trucks he loaded. But the jewelry quickly became more profitable.
“He would load the trucks for $30, and they had 30 days to pay,” Sellick told Patch in February of last year. “It would take him two or three hours to load the truck. Then the driver would come in to sign the invoices, and he’d see the rings, and he’d buy them for $150. After it happened a couple of times, [Clem] was like, ‘What, am I nuts?’ ”
Once he realized how profitable his jewelry business was, Clem took the steps to become a gemologist and converted his warehouse into a 3,800-square-foot jewelry store.
About 25 years ago, when Clem wanted to retire, he approached Sellick to take over. But Sellick, who was concerned that his lack of experience in the industry would hurt him once he took over, initially refused.
“I told [Clem] I didn’t know anything about jewelry,” he said. “But I was running a couple of businesses at the time, and he said ‘You know the business end. You could learn about the jewelry.’ ”
Clem convinced him, and Sellick took over as manager. Ten years later, he and his wife Jeanne bought the business from Clem and his wife, and they've owned it ever since.
For a while, things went well. Local residents were able to get top-quality jewelry for much cheaper prices than at high-end stores like Tiffany's. At the turn of the century, Gemport was taking in over a million dollars a year in business. But things started to turn soon after that.
Sellick saw the signs as far back as 2000. “The first thing that happens is that all of the cash disappears,” he said. “People stop spending cash. It’s amazing. Everything becomes credit cards or checks. That’s the first sign that a recession is coming.”
At the time, it didn’t seem like it would be anything out of the ordinary. “Every ten years or so you have a recession,” said Sellick. “What happens then is business goes down maybe 2 or 3 percent. It’s like that for two, three years at most.”
But Sellick and the rest of the country couldn’t prepare for the tragic events of 9/11. Sellick pointed to the attacks as the starting point for a decline that he could never stabilize. “It was a slow process,” he said, “but it was just a continuous downturn.”
The slight downturn accelerated about five years ago, when the economy started to take a turn for the worse. Gold prices rose from $300 an ounce to $1400 an ounce. Previous declines that were two and three percent became upwards of 20 and 30 percent.
“Everybody just started buying light,” said Sellick. “It affects everybody; the wholesalers, the people who are buying from other countries, the people from Italy who make a lot of the gold. It’s like a ripple effect.”
The small-market jewelry industry saw profits slashed dramatically once the market hit, a sign that their typical customers were forced to cut back. The high-end jewelry stores, however, came through relatively unscathed. “They’re still doing business because a lot of people with money who will buy in those places,” said Sellick. “The jewelry industry was one of the few places left where there were smaller businesses that were able to be competitive. This economy has taken a lot of the jewelry stores out.”
Sellick's initial solution was to invest in the area around Gemport (which he also owned) in the hopes of building a shopping center. But his plans were thwarted when Northport Village issued a two-year moratorium on building permits along 25A. That wait, along with the standard three-to-four year wait for a permit, was too long to bear.
“We had the site plans done,” he said. “We spent money on surveys. A lot of money was already put into it. I had the site plans, right down to where all the shrubs were going to be, but they weren’t accepting applications for 25A.”
With a good offer in place, Sellick made the decision to sell the surrounding area while keeping his store. “I figured I would ride it out, and that the economy in three years would start to turn, and that I could go back to where we were,” he said.
But business got worse, not better, and Sellick had no choice but to give up his store as well. He still had items to sell, though, so he looked for a new location to continue his clearance sale, and found one that suited him. Sellick moved into the new location at 691 Fort Salonga Road in the beginning of 2011 and has since made the best of what he GemPort had left.
A few customers were in the store on their last day at 691 Fort Salonga Road, though the mood among workers was somber. "A lot of people have come by to say goodbye and wish us good luck," a woman working at the store said on Tuesday, adding that Northport is losing an icon.
What are you memories of Gemport? Share them in the comment section below.